Jarod McMorris (left) with Good Energy addressed the McLean County Board on Tuesday morning. (Photo by Eric Stock/WJBC)
By Eric Stock
BLOOMINGTON - McLean County Board members have decided they don't want to wait on potential energy savings.
The board voted 14-4 today to approve a plan to have Good Energy market power aggregation ahead of an April 9 referendum. If it passes, the company would secure energy prices for unincorporated areas of the county it projects to be close to 30 percent less that what they pay currently.
Board member Chuck Erickson, R-Bloomington, proposed the contract be pushed back until after the vote, suggesting the contract creates the appearance that the county is trying to sway voters to support aggregation.
"As individual board members, we can go out and campaign for this until our hearts fall out, but as a county board as a whole, we shouldn't be making any comment whether this plan is good or not good or great or not great," Erickson said.
That vote to postponse failed on a 12-6 vote.
A similar proposal to delay the vote until March, just three weeks short of the election, failed on a 14-4 vote.
Board member Eric Rankin, D-Bloomington, said there's no harm in putting the issue to the public now, since the voters will ultimately decide.
"None of this matters if, on the day of the election, this doesn't pass. If the aggregation doesn't pass, who cares, this doesn't matter," Rankin said.
Good Energy's energy consultant Jarod McMorris told the board, in that case, they miss out on the education campaign ahead of the vote. He said that campaign consists of mail, local media, public hearings and other venues which are intended to inform, not persuade, though he said those campaigns have led more voters to support aggregation.
"You can pass or not pass this without marketing, it's possible. Our success rate in working with communities from the beginning is 90 percent," McMorris said, adding that only 60 percent of municipalities have approved aggregation without a campaign.
McMorris added that if they'd wait, it will take much longer before the savings would be realized. He said if approved, the county would join a consortium that go to do bid for energy prices as early as May.
Bloomington and Normal both contracted with Good Energy in its municipal aggregation efforts. Votes in both cities struck down the proposal last spring. Normal passed on a second vote in November. Bloomington has decided to bring the issue back to the voters in the spring.
County approves Wirtz tax breaks
McLean County is the latest government body to sign off on tax breaks for a $7.25 million warehouse for Bloomington's west side.
Wirtz Beverage would be getting a five-year property tax abatement for a project that would create more than 100 jobs.
Board member Rankin called it a no-brainer.
"I cannot understand why anyone would disagree with this. This seems to be as logical as it can be. Bloomington, Normal and McLean County are in the business of attempting to attract businesses to our area," Rankin said.
The County Board vote was unanimous but some board members, including George Wendt (R-Bloomington), said they wanted more information in the future about whether the project could have been done without sacrificing the tax revenue.
"Before we start giving away tax rebates, let's have the companies tell us why their project isn't feasible without the rebates. We've got a great location here, a lot of advantages," Wendt said.
Bloomington, Normal and Unit 5 have already signed off on the plan. The Heartland Community College Board of Trustees will consider the request tonight.
Eric Stock can be reached at email@example.com.